The 2018 Innovation in Affordable Housing Student Design and Planning Competition

This year’s Innovation in Affordable Housing Student Design and Planning Competition challenged students from the four finalist teams to create a community plan to address the needs of seniors and persons with disabilities. Of central importance was for the students to come up with creative and innovative approaches for providing a variety of supportive services to the community while maintaining a commitment to affordability, environmental resilience, and social cohesion. Last month, the four teams — Pratt University, University of Colorado Denver, University of Maryland, College Park, and University of Texas at Austin — dodged heavy snow and sleet to spend an entire day with staff from the Dover Housing Authority, also called Whittier Falls, and toured the construction site that serves as the case study for their revised proposals. The challenge? To apply innovative design and building techniques that are financially feasible and could be incorporated into a new construction site consisting of 154 new units designed for seniors and persons with a variety of disabilities. The students used what they learned from the site visit to refine their proposed plans for a final presentation at this year’s awards ceremony.

The 2018 HUD Innovation in Affordable Housing (IAH) Student Design and Planning Competition Awards Ceremony was held on April 18, 2018, at HUD Headquarters. HUD’s Office of Policy Development and Research (PD&R) kicked off the event with a morning seminar featuring practitioners’ perspectives on the development and preservation of affordable housing called “The ABCs of Affordable Housing: Architecture, Balance Sheet, and Community.” After lunch, the four finalist teams presented their ideas to a panel of jurors representing the planning, architecture, and home building industries. HUD staff, invited guests, and members of the public attended the event, with many others nationwide viewing the presentations via webcast. Each student team delivered a 20-minute presentation addressing the economic, social, and environmental challenges of the development site chosen by Dover Housing Authority. Members of the jury then had 10 minutes to field questions to the students. While the jury deliberated, the students were treated to a surprise visit from Deputy Secretary Pam Patenaude, who spent time asking each team questions about their proposals. She remarked at how well thought out each presentation was and how impressed she was by the poise demonstrated by the students as they presented their plans.

The four student teams delivered outstanding presentations for the project site, making the jurors’ task of choosing a winner and a runner-up a difficult one. Senior Advisor to the Secretary for Policy Development and Research Christopher M. Bourne added that the presentations were all impressive. Bourne, who announced this year’s winners, emphasized the importance of breaking down bureaucratic norms that hinder progress. Bourne went on to say that building private and public partnerships are necessary ingredients for a sustained commitment to expanding economic opportunities for low-income families. Bourne recognized the team from the University of Maryland, College Park as this year’s winner. Maryland’s plan, called Beacon Crossing, places heavy focus on the interconnectedness between community services and sustainable development. The strategy hinges on creating integrated spaces, such as the YMCA and a Community Center where residents can congregate and engage in a variety of recreational activities. Community residents participate in the upkeep of a greenhouse garden that provides fresh vegetables and fruit year-round.

Excited and thrilled that her team won the competition, faculty advisor and director of the Real Estate Development Program at the University of Maryland, Professor Maria K. Day-Marshall, commented that “it was an honor for the University of Maryland team to have competed in such a prestigious student competition as the HUD Innovation in Affordable Housing Student Competition. I found the teams from the other universities to be impressive. However, I felt that the University of Maryland team did an absolutely phenomenal job.” Marshall continued, “not only did they present an innovative, comprehensive project, they delivered an exceptionally professional presentation. The fact that they knew the project inside and out allowed them to really engage the jury, which I think set them apart in the competition. We look forward to competing in this competition in the future.”

Building off the team’s euphoria, Sacsheen Scott added, “what I truly appreciate most about the opportunity to work on the IAH HUD competition team is the opportunity to learn about other important components of affordable housing, such as sustainable architecture and important financing structures. Furthermore, the competition allowed me the opportunity to practice what I’ve learned inside the classroom and apply it to a real, affordable housing concern.” The jurors commented that the Maryland team heeded the advice of the jury by creating a plan that identifies a definable neighborhood that offers a variety of housing and building types with access to services interwoven into the new development. In their view, the team exhibited skill in architecture and planning with an eye firmly on community building. The Maryland team received $20,000 for their winning proposal.

The University of Colorado Denver was selected as the runner-up team. The jury lauded the students’ Allied Living plan for highlighting the central importance of accessible design that addresses health and wellness and connectivity to the larger Dover community. During their presentation, the students highlighted major themes, which were creating easy access to public amenities through the encouragement of multimodal options and promoting walkable places throughout the development. The social aspects of the project were most impressive, according to the judges — incorporating design strategies that improve mental and emotional wellbeing, pointing to research that confirms that connections to the outdoors and other people lessens boredom, combats loneliness, and contributes to a greater sense of community. The University of Colorado Denver was awarded a $10,000 runner-up cash prize.

Following the announcement of the winning teams, Bourne recognized the remaining finalists — Pratt Institute and the University of Texas at Austin — congratulating the students’ hard work and accomplishment in this year’s student competition. Bourne remarked, “I was very impressed with how the student design teams were able to devise innovative solutions to the social, financial and environmental design criteria of the competition and weave them into a community that will foster connections among residents and between the residents, supportive services, and the broader municipality. Congratulations to the winners and all the participants.”

Each team received $5,000, which marks the first time in competition history that a cash prize was offered to the finalist teams. Bourne reiterated the importance of an interdisciplinary and practical approach for solving very complex, real-world challenges to affordable housing. Looking ahead to next year’s competition, Bourne reminded the audience that there is still more work to do in guaranteeing that quality housing connecting people to social and economic opportunities is a reality for all.